Things That Matter

The Supreme Court Is Deciding Whether It Should Criminalize Pro-Immigrant Speech

The First Amendment seemed like one law that would go unchallenged in the United States. With bipartisan support and the general consensus that freedom of speech is a tenet of democracy seemed to ensure its safety. However, the Supreme Court has decided to hear the case of United States v. Sineneng-Smith. 

The judges will decide if pro-immigrant speech that might encourage undocumented immigrants to illegally enter the United States is unlawful. The verdict could have serious consequences not just for migrants but for their advocates as well. 

The Supreme Court has a conservative majority and the current iteration of the Republican party has taken a rather extreme anti-immigrant stance lately, two factors which could heavily affect the outcome of the decision. 

The case concerns an obscure “encouragement provision” of immigration law.

According to Slate, a section in our immigration code forbids the encouragement of an “alien” to reside in the United States if the individual has no legal status. The case made its away to the Supreme Court by way of Evelyn Sineneng-Smith. 

Sineneng-Smith was charged and convicted of fraud by the Trump administration when, as an immigration consultant, she incorrectly told clients they could stay in the U.S. under a program she had already known ended. However, prosecutors also convicted her on the encouragement provision. 

The issue is Sineneng-Smith is being charged for what she said on a very literal basis. The fraud is the obvious wrong-doing, but now the courts will have to decide: are the words themselves? 

What if it is an undocumented person’s best course of action to remain in the U.S. without papers, which may be the case with our esoteric and fluctuating immigration system, on top of the implied moral conundrum.

“An advocate or lawyer now has to worry, given the government’s position in this case, that this language … may trigger criminal liability just for correctly advising a noncitizen,” Manny Vargas, senior counsel for the nonprofit Immigrant Defense Project in New York City, told Slate.

Advocates will be forced to second guess the advice they give to clients in fear of facing legal action. 

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals allowed Sineneng-Smith to appeal. 

Although the courts struck down Sineneng-Smith’s fraud appeal, they reversed the encouragement conviction. A three-judge majority believed the provision criminalizes constitutionally protected speech, therefore, violating the First Amendment. 

The judges asserted that the provision, “criminalizes a substantial amount of protected expression in relation to the statute’s narrow legitimate sweep,” and that it, “potentially criminalizes the simple words—spoken to a son, a wife, a parent, a friend, a neighbor, a coworker, a student, a client—’I encourage you to stay here.’”

However, the Trump administration decided to legally challenge the 9th Circuit sending the case to the Supreme Court who could choose to either accept or reject the case. They chose to accept it. 

The encouragement provision provides “appropriate punishment for defendants who seek enrichment by incentivizing or procuring violations of the immigration laws by aliens who illegally enter or remain in the United States,” the government wrote in a court filing. 

The Trump Administration also suggested the 9th Circuit’s “hypotheticals” are hyperbole and that the provision is an essential law enforcement tool. 

The ACLU stands against the encouragement provision. 

 “Anytime you hear a government lawyer saying ‘trust us’ when our free speech rights are at stake, you should run in the other direction,” ACLU deputy legal director Cecillia Wang said

Wang noted that there cannot be any discourse about immigration if individuals are banned from mentioning the subject on social media. 

“I write an op-ed saying, ‘I disagree with the U.S. immigration laws and I believe that ‘Dreamers’ should stay in the U.S., you belong here,” she said. “I can’t leave it up to good faith in prosecutors not to come after me and try to throw me in federal prison for doing that.” 

Vargas believes that the fact that the Supreme Court has taken on the case, coupled with the Trump administration advocating for the provision itself — is not a good sign. According to Slate, the provision is little known that has existed for years but has rarely been enforced until now. 

The only thing that’s different now is that the current administration has amped up anti-immigrant rhetoric along with increasingly extreme tactics to enforce those sentiments. 

“The fact that the U.S. is looking to get the Supreme Court to reverse the lower court’s finding … is an indication that the government wants to use this provision,” Vargas told Slate. 

If you’re wondering if the Supreme Court could really ban freedom of speech in a country that regularly bans people from even entering it, that banned couples from getting married, that fairly recently banned one race from using the same water fountains as another race, then you might be asking the wrong questions.

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This Migrant Mother Spent Three Years In Church Sanctuary But Now She’s Free

Things That Matter

This Migrant Mother Spent Three Years In Church Sanctuary But Now She’s Free

Lawyers are working hard to get a deportation order removed against a woman who just left a church sanctuary after three years in the refuge. Although she was previously denied asylum in the U.S., advocates are hoping that under new direction from the Biden administration, her case will be reviewed and she’ll be able to stay with her family in Ohio – where she’s lived for more than twenty years.

A mother of three is back with her family after living three years inside a church.

A mother of three who sought refugee inside an Ohio church from immigration authorities has finally been able to leave three years later. Edith Espinal, who herself is an immigrant rights advocate, had been living at the Columbus Mennonite Church since October 2017 to avoid being deported to Mexico. She’s now out of the church and back with her family following a meeting with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials, who have agreed that she’s not an immediate priority for deportation.

“Finally, I can go home,” Espinal told reporters after meeting with the officials. With tears of relief, she celebrated the small victory in the presence of dozens of supporters who accompanied her to the ICE building.

“But it is not the end of her case. We’re still going to have to fight,” her attorney Lizbeth Mateo said.

ICE has agreed to hold off on her deportation proceedings pending her asylum request.

Espinal was released under an order of supervision, meaning that while she’s not considered an immediate priority for deportation, she must periodically check in with ICE officials to inform them about her whereabouts.

She has lived in Columbus for more than two decades and had previously applied for asylum, citing rising violence in her home state of Michoacán. But she eventually was ordered to leave the country, which is when she sought refuge inside the Columbus, Ohio church.

“We’re going to continue pressing the Biden administration to do the right thing, and try to get rid of that order of deportation against Edith, so she can walk freely like everyone else does without fear,” Mateo said during the press conference.

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Justice Amy Coney Barrett Just Issued Her First Opinion In Abortion Case And Cast Doubt On Future Of Roe V. Wade

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Justice Amy Coney Barrett Just Issued Her First Opinion In Abortion Case And Cast Doubt On Future Of Roe V. Wade

It was no secret that if the Republican Party and Donald Trump got their way with the Supreme Court, that women’s health and reproductive rights would be under attack. Well, Trump installed his new justice, Amy Coney Barrett, to the court in November and she’s just issued her first opinion in a case related to access to abortion.

Amy Coney Barrett handed a victory to the White House and Conservatives regarding abortion.

Since taking her seat on the Supreme Court in November, Justice Coney Barretts’ opinions have escaped much scrutiny. However, her latest opinion in an abortion-related case is drawing scrutiny from both the left and the right for clues of how she might rule in the future.

The decision, issued despite objection from the court’s more liberal judges, reinstates a requirement for patients to pick up the drug, mifepristone, in person. Three lower courts had blocked the Food and Drug Administration’s in-person pick-up requirement for mifepristone during the coronavirus pandemic, citing the risks of contracting COVID-19 at a doctor’s office or a hospital.

Julia Kaye, staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union Reproductive Freedom Project, called the court’s decision “chilling” and one that “needlessly” endangers “even more people during this dark pandemic winter.”

In an interview with NPR, she added that people of color, like Black and Latinx patients, are at particular risk for health risks posed by COVID-19. Requiring them to go to a doctor’s office in person to pick up the drug threatens the health and lives of those patients, she said.

It’s the first abortion-related decision since last year’s swearing in of Justice Amy Coney Barrett, whose presence on the high court bench ensured a new conservative majority. Abortion-rights advocates have been fearful of what a conservative majority could do to chip away at legal protections for abortion.

On the surface, this week’s abortion ruling is fairly minor but it has many women worried.

Credit: Phil Walter / Getty Images

In its ruling, the Court didn’t release a majority opinion, which means that the case doesn’t explicitly change existing legal doctrine. And the case concerns a policy that the Biden administration could likely reverse after President-elect Joe Biden takes office.

But, when you read between the lines, the case – FDA v. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists – warns of a dark future for abortion rights and women’s health.

The premise of pro-abortion rights decisions like Roe v. Wade (1973) is that the Constitution provides special protection to the right to an abortion that it doesn’t provide to other elective medical procedures. Yet, as Justice Sonia Sotomayor explains in dissent, American College effectively rules that a commonly used abortion drug may be regulated more harshly than any other legal medication.

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